Chryselephantin figurines

Sculptures – Ideals and contemporary documents at the same time

Man has built images of himself for thousands of years, in the form of painting, wood- and ivory carving, sculpture or casts. Initially, the particular attention was on high-class personalities or gods, that became beauty ideals in their meticulous rendering. The sculptors loved to use different precious materials to emphasise the value of the statue. So, they used e.g. gilt bronze and ivory. This technique is called 'Chryselephantin' after the Greek words Chrys= Gold and elephantinos= of ivory. In the form that we know today, it was first used ca. 1855. From the turn of the century to the 1920s it enjoyed great popularity.

Quittenbaum Art Auctions offers in its Art Nouveau/ Art Déco sale on 28. April 2009 among numerous valuable sculptures also a dozen of these ivory and Chryselephantin figurines.

Two groups of figures can be highlighted:

On the one hand, there are traditional forms of representation of ideals, like the nude by Jean-Bernard (Joé) Descomps, ca. 1900, that has its model in the 'Venus Pudica of Cnidus', from the 1st century B.C. Our statue is carved of ivory and is of a peculiar elegance; even the base had been chosen wisely of black-and-brown marble and inset onyx (fig. 1, estimate 3,800 €).

On the other hand, 'real life' is represented: Be it that of children, like the small figure 'Hoop Girl' by the wellknown Berlin sculptor Ferdinand Preiss, c. 1930. One the one side, she is perky, on the other side, shy, holding her hoop behind her with both hands, the clothes of silvered and gilt bronze, head, arms and legs of ivory, carefully and precisely carved (fig 2, estimate 4,500 €); be that of adults, who enjoy the 'Golden Twenties' to the fullest.

Demètre H. Chiparus, 'Empreintes de pied', 1920er Jahre, Schätzpreis/estimate € 18.000The most famous representative of this movement is Roumanian-born Demètre H. Chiparus, who moved to Paris in 1912 and got in contact with all kinds of people. He was peculiarly interested in the Theater and the Vaudeville. His dancers are authentic testimonials of the 'Années Folles' before the Black Friday of 1929. 'Empreintes de pied' is a good example of those years. A dancer, her feet one after the other, her torso bent backwards, her arms streched almost vertically in an angle of 180°. Her clothes are richly adorned, the shirt copper-coloured, the skirt golden with silver-spots, on her head a decorated shawl. Head, hands, belly and feet carefully carved. The base, here too, of different selected stones, chess-board-like incrustated (fig. 4, estimate 18,000,-- €).

This 'calm' figurine contrasts wonderfully with the 'Danseuse à la chaîne', from around the same time, a half-clad young woman with 'Egyptian' headdress, balancing on one leg, her chained arms widely spread – a figure full of tension – you almost wait for it to move. Here too one can discover the assiduous execution of all and especially the ivory parts. (fig. 3, estimate 12,000 €).

Concludingly, one can state that Chryselephantin sculptures of this epoch will never be outmoded due to their ingenuity and their craftsmanship.

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